As the new Tally Lake District Ranger, Bill Mulholland says he enjoys wearing a variety of hats.
“Rangers do a little bit of everything,” Mulholland said recently. “Rangers are some of the busiest folks in the Forest Service. Every day I’m busy, answering the phone, going out in the district, dealing with problems, dealing with budgets and staffing. I’m a problem solver, that’s what I do.”
Mulholland joined the Flathead National Forest in April, replacing former Ranger Lisa Timchak, who moved to a Forest Supervisor position in Wyoming.
Mulholland holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a master’s in environmental management, and has worked in various forest service positions since 1998. Most recently he was the District Ranger for the North Umpqua Ranger District in Oregon from 2014 until taking the job in the Flathead. He also served in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
He brings his wife and two children with him to Whitefish.
While Mulholland says he’s still getting his feet wet in the Flathead and looking through past management plans, one priority is already clear for the future — wildfires.
“As we know, fire is becoming more prevalent on the landscape. We’re seeing hotter, drier weather, generally speaking, and in return we’re seeing more active fire behavior. One of the big problems we’re facing is as the forests and the areas around them become more popular ... our fires are really having an effect on what’s going on in the community,” he said.
Mulholland pointed to the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), which designates areas where structures intermingle with undeveloped natural areas and can lead to wildfires bleeding into more developed areas. Building codes that focus on WUI can help create more resilient structures that are best-suited for their proximity to fire-prone areas.
He’s also looking at different ways to handle burn areas by considering the fire resiliency of those locations, a carryover from his time in Oregon.
“We were really big on integrated resource restoration, and that’s looking at the fire and the landscape, and asking, ‘What is the fire resiliency of that landscape?’” he said. “Before we might do very spotted treatments, now we try to look and have those spots connect. So they offer resiliency as the fire burns through, it might drop down when it gets down to those units rather than having Swiss cheese [style burns].”
In addition, figuring out how fire treatment affects the wildlife in those areas is a big priority.
Unlike Umpqua, Mulholland said he has some new wildlife neighbors to get used to in the Flathead.
“I’m getting used to the species that are here, like grizzly bears. That’s new to me. I would imagine that grizzly bear habitat, if it gets burned up, that’s not a good thing for grizzly bears just as it’s not a good thing for [other sensitive species]. Those are the complexities that come into play. We have to manage for multiple things,” he said.
Another area Mulholland is focused on is timber management.
He said he’s focused on avoiding “timber sales just for timber sales,” and wants to be more intentional about logging and timber management in his district.
“There’s been a long history in the Tally Lake District of active timber management, versus maybe other districts like Spotted Bear or Hungry Horse maybe that are more mountainous areas, Tally Lake has had a history of timber management,” he said. “The timber industry is a big important thing for us of course — we all build homes with two-by-fours — but we have to look at it more holistically than we have in the past.”
Finally, Mulholland noted the challenges that come with the ever-increasing number of people getting out on public trails.
He’s seen remote trails in Colorado fill up over the last few decades, and he knows Whitefish is no exception to that boom in outdoor recreation.
Finding how the Forest Service can best help with that boom is a big interest of his.
“We’re looking for ways to increase the recreation opportunities, particularly with the way the Flathead Valley is growing. We’re very interested and concerned about what the future will look like in the Forest Service and the community. What is it that the community wants out of the Forest Service, what can we provide?” he said.
He was happy to see the Forest Service already getting involved with projects like the Whitefish Trail, which hopes to connect the loop around Whitefish Lake by building new connecting trails through Forest Service land in the next few years.
“That is great stuff. Those are the kinds of things that really connect the community to the Forest Service and the opportunities we provide, so you’re going to see more interest and more dialogue for sure in things like the Whitefish Trail from Tally Lake,” he said.